It was never hard to predict the effects of the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour party. Although some people wondered whether the candidate of the far-left might soften some of his opinions once in power, most observers never doubted that someone who had cherished such opinions almost alone on the backbenches for three decades was hardly going to change them overnight just because he had become party leader. For someone such as Corbyn, an elevation to a position of leadership is a vindication of those years in the wilderness, not an opportunity to find an ideological replacement.
To the surprise of nobody who was familiar with his politics, Corbyn has spent his time so far surrounding himself with figures arguably even more hard-core than him. He immediately appointed IRA-supporter John McDonnell as his Shadow Chancellor and more recently appointed Seamus Milne as his spin-doctor. Milne's support for absolutely anyone so long as he is anti-British made him too extreme in recent decades even for many of his former colleagues at Britain's Guardian newspaper.
But the most predictable and worrying result of Corbyn's election was always the effect it was going to have on the growing anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism in the UK. During Corbyn's election campaign, his sympathetic attitude towards his whole milieu of anti-Semites, terrorists and Holocaust-deniers became an issue. Having spent many days of his life standing on platforms alongside such figures as Paul Eisen, Dyab Abu Jahjah and Raed Saleh, media criticism of such relationships came as a surprise only to the youngest among Corbyn's supporters, who chose to dismiss such serious questions as "press smears." During that period, Corbyn was careful not completely to drop his most extreme friends. Instead, he pretended his relationships with them was less than it was, or that they had only connected because of a concern to further 'peace' or 'inter-faith issues'. And he certainly did nothing to suggest that his views of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute -- a dispute in which Corbyn has only ever supported the most intransigent and extreme forces on the Palestinian side -- had in any way changed.
In 2009, Jeremy Corbyn (left) said: "It will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well." Pictured in the middle is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Pictured at right is Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
As it was clear that Corbyn's views would not have changed, and as the only people he can rely on to be loyal to him are people who have views as extreme or even more extreme than him, there was only one possible result to his election: that Corbyn would end up bringing into the mainstream views that ought to be at the farthest fringes of politics.
Take the UK view of Hamas. The terrorist organization is proscribed in Britain, but Jeremy Corbyn has been friendly with the group for years. Indeed, he has been on record describing its members as "friends" and has repeatedly appeared alongside the group's representatives in the UK and the Middle East. Now, a sympathetic stance towards proscribed groups such as Hamas is one of the hallmarks of bigots in the UK, and also of the interminably naïve and ignorant. One of the reasons Hamas supporters spend so much time trying to speak to university students in the UK is because they hope such students will demonstrate a naïveté about them and their goals that might be unusual elsewhere in society.
What happens when a pro-Hamas speaker is confronted by an anti-Hamas speaker? The anti-Hamas speaker may rightly say that Hamas is an extremist organization. The pro-Hamas speaker or naïve student might easily come back by asking how an organization can be deemed extreme if the leader of Her Majesty's opposition is a friend and supporter of the group. Obviously, this does not make Hamas non-extreme, but it certainly makes it easier to depict its terrorists as tolerable and its racism as acceptable.
This effect -- the Corbynization of British politics -- has already had one notable effect. Last week Sir Gerald Kaufmann, a man with a track record of anti-Semitic comments, said something crazed even by his own high standards. Speaking at an event organized by the Hamas-affiliated "Palestine Return Centre" in Parliament, Kaufman claimed that the Conservative party had been influenced by "Jewish money." Asked why the UK government had allegedly become more pro-Israel in recent years he said, "It's Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party -- as in the general election in May -- support from the Jewish Chronicle, all of those things bias the Conservatives."
What Kaufman said next is in some ways even more extraordinary. He claimed that the Palestinians "are living a repressed life, and are liable to be shot at any time. In the last few days alone the Israelis have murdered 52 Palestinians and nobody pays attention and this government doesn't care." He went on to claim that the recent stabbing attacks on Israeli citizens had been fabricated by the Israeli government in order to allow it to "execute Palestinians."
There have already been complaints about this statement from other MPs, including other Labour MPs. But what can be expected of the Labour leadership? Jeremy Corbyn is an old friend and ally of Kaufman's. They have shared anti-Israel platforms for years. However, whereas ordinarily a party leader would discipline an MP for such outrageous and false claims, nothing has happened -- nor will happen -- to Kaufman. It is a failure that should bring shame on the party. Even the Liberal Democrats managed eventually to withdraw the whip from their Baroness Jenny 'Boom' Tonge, who has repeatedly spread blood-libels about Israel. But Kaufman is part of Corbyn's Parliamentary base, and the kind of people who lap this sort of thing up are part of Jeremy Corbyn's wider base in the country. What is a leader like him to do?
This, then, is one of the already jolting effects of the Corbyn leadership. Wholly predictably, it has begun to mainstream anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, and it has encumbered the political left with few defences to the accusation that it is they who now harbour the proponents of the greatest racism of our time. Is it too much to hope that an alliance of Jews and non-Jews of every imaginable political stripe will push back to ensure this does not happen?
Addendum: Since this article was written Jeremy Corbyn has now criticised Kaufman's comments, and the party's Chief Whip has been to see him, but no further action has been taken.